Most Florida dealers dodge destructive Hurricane Ian

Florida dealership associations described retailers as relatively unscathed after Hurricane Ian soaked and whipped the state last week, while auto plants and dealerships in the Carolinas closed in anticipation of being the storm’s next target.

Volvo’s S60 sedan plant near Charleston, S.C., shut down Thursday and Friday, Volvo Cars USA said in a statement. Mercedes idled its Sprinter and Metris van plant about 15 miles closer to the Atlantic coast on Friday. The plants employ about 3,100 people combined.

The storm weakened to a tropical storm as it churned across Florida but regained hurricane strength after reaching the Atlantic Ocean on Thursday. A hurricane warning was issued for nearly 300 miles of coastline from the South Carolina-Georgia border to Cape Fear, N.C. Ian made landfall again at 2:05 p.m. Friday near Georgetown, S.C., as a Category 1 hurricane with 85 mph sustained winds.

North Carolina Automobile Dealers Association President Robert Glaser said Friday morning that dealerships in the potential path were closing and sending their staff home.

“It’s raining sideways,” Glaser said. But he said Ian seemed like it would be less problematic for North Carolina than other storms in recent years that had lingered over the state.

Glaser said most dealerships “have pretty good real estate,” and the state’s retailers knew how to prepare for hurricanes.

“We’ve been through this drill before,” he said.

In Florida, Hurricane Ian produced “catastrophic flooding” and left as many as 2.7 million people without power, according to the Florida Division of Emergency Management. But Ted Smith, president of the Florida Automobile Dealers Association, said the owners he had talked to Thursday had not seen significant damage in stores on the state’s Gulf Coast.

However, Smith hadn’t yet heard from some dealers in Lee County, which includes Fort Myers and Cape Coral. Ian made landfall northwest of Fort Myers on Wednesday afternoon as a Category 4 storm with sustained winds of 145 mph.

Smith said he had heard of damage to some Gettel Automotive stores in Charlotte County, just north of Lee, but the extent wasn’t clear.

“We’re just waiting to hear what’s going on in Lee County,” Smith said. “That’s where it appears to be the most destructive.”

Ed Morse Automotive Group’s four dealerships in Brandon and Tampa were spared the worst of the storm, though they still experienced flooding and damage from debris, CEO Teddy Morse said Thursday.

Retailers farther inland also appeared to have successfully ridden out the storm.

“There are no reports of major damage,” Central Florida Auto Dealers Association CEO Evelyn Cardenas wrote in an email Friday. “A handful of dealers have had a little bit of flooding. Only report of complete flooding in the store mostly due to a nearby retention pond overflow. Most dealers are open today.”Calls to several Cape Coral and Fort Myers dealerships Thursday and Friday either weren’t answered or didn’t go through. Websites for three Naples, Fla., Germain Automotive Group dealerships displayed a message saying they were “closed until further notice.”

“We are still evaluating any impact to our store in Fort Myers and are focused on supporting our associates and communities during this difficult time,” CarMax spokeswoman Jennifer Bartusiak wrote in an email. She said the retailer also has a relief fund for employees experiencing hardship.

In Florida as well as the Carolinas, flood-damaged vehicles could prove a problem for the industry, Morse said. Many dealerships around the country were already short on supplies of new and used vehicles.

“It’s worrisome that you’ve got dealers who may be very hungry for inventory, who may be paying way more than they should for a car that has flood damage,” Morse said. “So when those two things collide right now, (there is) still a need for used vehicles and people looking to dump cars that got flooded. It could get a little hairy.”

John Huetter, Drew Goretzka, Hannah Brock and Urvaksh Karkaria contributed to this report.

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